Protests raise questions about district back to school plan

August 31, 2020

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On Thursday Aug. 20, Hopkins Public Schools teachers and community members stood with each other in solidarity, with masks on and signs in hand, hoping the district would recognize their concern with the back to school plan put in place.

Gathered parallel from Eisenhower Elementary and Highway 7, honks of support reigned in for those protesting throughout the day. The majority of protesters were elementary school teachers worried for the safety of their students and themselves. 

Ms. Vanessa Walters, Special Education, has been working at Gatewood Elementary since 2016. With the safety of her students and fellow teachers being the number one priority, Walters felt the back to school plan wasn’t providing teachers with enough prep time to ensure students can learn safely and effectively.

Ms. Vanessa Walters, Special Education, holds a sign with the message “I usually beg for pencils & books… this year I’m begging for my safety!” (Lucia Brimmer)

“We all want to go back to school, but we want to do it safely and efficiently,” Walters said. “Teachers don’t have the time that they need to prepare for those participating in distance learning, so while teachers are in classrooms with the A day students, they are also responsible for the B day students who are at home.”

The plan currently in place is a hybrid model, with kindergarten and first grade going four days a week for a full school day, and second through sixth grade going two days a week for a full school day. 

The HHS back to school plan includes two to four weeks of distance learning, then incremental shifts into hybrid learning in hopes that eventually students can return back to in person classes. Students also have the choice to opt out of hybrid classes, and instead do full distance learning. 

Mr. Tim Owen, World Language, was also in attendance of the protest, along with many other HHS and junior high teachers.

Mr. Tim Owen holds a sign with the message “School in fall endangers all!!” (Lucia Brimmer)

Owen is hopeful that the distance learning plan will run smoother after last year’s plan was recognized as a “fail” by many students and teachers. 

“In the spring we did a lot of sharing of ideas within the department, so we took a lot of time this summer thinking of ways in which we could improve for this coming school year,” Owen said.

Owen agreed with Walters, as they both cited the health and safety of students, and teachers, as the driving factor in the district’s decisions.

“Whether it’s grade school, junior high, or high school, people who get the virus can bring it back to their families in our community, so we are all in this together and we need to support each other,” Owen said.

With a large attendance in support, teachers are hoping the administration, from the district as a whole to individual elementary schools, will dive deeper into teacher’s concerns with the plan.

“We are hoping that the administration listens, and that parents hear us and understand why we need this,” Walters said. “We aren’t just asking for this because we don’t want to go back to work. We are asking for this to ensure schools stay open in the long run, that they run successfully, and that students, teachers, and families are healthy.”

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